Marybeth and I have not spent too much time in Chapel Hill since we moved to Durham. However, we really wanted to go check out Beer Study last Saturday because we have heard good things. We had spent the day with her family and done some pretty serious landscaping to the yard since this is the first spring in our house. We felt that we deserved to make a night of it and after some googling decided to have dinner at Lucha Tigre before heading to Beer Study for drinks (SPOILER ALERT: we never made it to Beer Study; the yard work just took all of our energy). We really had no idea what to expect from Lucha Tigre. First, their Facebook page described them as a Latin and Asian food “mash-up” restaurant. Second, they only had a Facebook page; no formal website to speak of and that usually does not bode well for the dining experience. Luckily, the conclusions that I drew from this turned out to be completely wrong.
Regardless of their lack of a proper website, I was interested from the start. As my wife can attest, if there is a discussion about what to eat for dinner then my choice is something from Asia. Sushi, Chinese take-out, hibachi, and pho are my go-tos for dinner. (I usually get shut down pretty quickly) Option number 2 (that usually gets accepted by Marybeth) is always tacos/burritos. So, Lucha Tigre was a win-win for us. Upon walking in, I was even more excited. The art is very cool. It is a mixture of street art and propaganda art that immediately made me think of propaganda from both Asian and Latin revolutionaries. It instantly made me think of the style of Shepard Fairey with the sole use of the colors red, black, and white. The history and street art parts of my brain were now into this restaurant as well.
The food and drink did not disappoint my brain. We each started with a mojito because they seemed very unique. I got the Tiger Mojito because it was made with Tiger beer (a Singapore light lager) and I am a sucker for beer cocktails and learning about what Asia considers beer. I was extremely pleased to find out that the drink only used a small bit of the beer and both the mojito and left over beer were sat in front of me (“This is the secret deal” are the words our waitress said as she presented me with the two beverages). Marybeth got the Lucha Mojito which is just a traditional mojito with dark rum and it was certainly the better of the two mojitos but unfortunately, did not come with the extra beer.
I was also pleasantly surprised to realize that Lucha Tigre, for the most part, is a tapas restaurant which is perfect for a couple that write a food blog. Therefore, we got a lot of food. Looking at the menu however, I quickly realised that “mash-up” may be a misnomer. Juxtaposition may have been a better choice of words. The kitchen wasn’t necessarily mashing the Latin and Asian cuisines together as much as they were just putting them on the same plate and demonstrating how well they worked together on our palates. We started with the salsa sampler that included a tomatillo salsa, roja salsa, pico de gallo, and a deceiving yellow habanero salsa. In my opinion the habanero was by far the most flavorful of the choices, albeit, pretty spicy. Marybeth thought it too spicy for her tastes. The best part about the salsa sampler was the basket of “chips” that came with it. The basket included traditional tortilla chips, fried wontons, and cinnamon covered sweet potato chips. It was really interesting to see how each vehicle changed the way you perceived the salsa.
We moved on from there to a table full of dishes. First came the empanadas. We had a Thai peanut empanada (the closest thing to what could be considered a mash-up) and a Shitaki and Oxaca empanda. These were both excellent. I am not a fan of crusts on food so if I don’t get the perfect ratio of filling to crust then I am unhappy but this is more of a weird mental block on my part than anything the restaurant could have done better. I really like Thai peanut anything and mushrooms so neither of these were a hard sell for me.
We then moved on to the pork-centric parts of dinner (also known as “the best part”). I love the way that both Asian and Latin American cultures prepare pork. It is a borderline obsession therefore much of the menu just called my name. We got the pork belly steam-buns which were good but a bit over steamed. The pork dumplings however, were a step closer to me reaching pork nirvana. The pork dumplings truly were some of the best dumplings I have ever had.
Lastly, Marybeth (and maybe myself also) can not eat dinner without being attacked by her natural sweet tooth. We were so close to going with the churros but we went the new spiced pear cake with caramel. I am not sure what this has to do with either the Latin or Asian cultures, but damn it was tasty.
Needless to say, after the food, mojitos, and yard work, we were in no way capable of making it to Beer Study. Maybe next week.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we start a series about shopping at our local farmers’ markets and the food we prepare with our bounty.